Extra Lizard is to be Expected

As both my mother and Joe have both reminded me recently, I’m at a tough time in my life right now. I keep forgetting that. It’s not as if I think what I’m going through is easy, precisely. More that because it’s me, well, I expect me to pull it together and soldier on. But if it were a friend of mine… Ending a five year long relationship is hard. No matter why you end it. No matter how amicable. The fact of the matter is that something that’s been a huge and potentially definitive part of your life has ended. I miss J. A lot. But what hurts most is the loss of the future we’d planned.

Photo by Ronardios

I had a moment of insecurity over something silly the other day. I knew it was silly, but sometimes the reptile brain kicks in and can’t be swayed. I joked with Joe that I had this image of a bright green lizard at a fork in the road, scuttling back and forth to peer down each path but not choosing either.

That’s when Joe reminded me that I had been dealing with a lot of emotional turmoil and change. “Extra lizard is to be expected,” he said.



When we bring him home the first day he’s covered in dirt. I carry him past mom and into the bathroom to wash him while Dave runs interference. We weren’t supposed to get a puppy, we were just supposed to look. But really, send Dad and Dave and me out to look at puppies and expect us not to get one? Losing battle, that.

Washing him has the unexpected side effect of arousing mom’s sympathy. Wet bedraggled and bewildered puppy is apparently one of her triggers for mothering.

My brother names him Orion.

Soon enough Orion loves everyone. He spends his first hours with us trying to lick our noses. Our older golden retriever starts drooling uncontrollably; her anxiety response. Eventually she decides Orion’s okay. He’s remarkably tolerant of her drooling on him.

Six months old and Orion is limping. He can barely walk. Both front legs are having problems. Watch a six month old puppy try to play and stumble because his legs won’t hold him.

Osteochondritis Dissecans. Congenital problem with joints and cartilage. Dad calls up the breeder and chews him out about faking the health certs for the parents. The breeder offers to take Orion back, which we all know would be a death sentence. The man would just put him down.

Mom and Dad comb through the budget to find the money for surgery. It will cost 2k, and they can only scrape up 1k. Uncle Stan gives us the rest.

Orion goes in for surgery on both shoulders. He’ll need to stay at the vet for a week after surgery. The receptionist calls to tell us what a wonderful dog he is.

He comes home looking like he’s wearing go-go boots.

He can’t go up the stairs, so Dave brings his sleeping bag downstairs and camps out on the living room floor next to Orion for the next several weeks. Dave is Orion’s person.

Dad and Uncle Stan drive Orion back for a follow-up at the vet. Orion is so terrified, he shakes the entire hour long ride there. Uncle Stan holds him the whole way there. Orion will be the first, possibly the only, one of our dogs Uncle Stan bonds with.

Orion heals and no longer limps. He never stops being a puppy, though, as the years pass. He’ll look at you with complete adoration, like you’re the best thing in the world. Half an hour later you’ll catch him giving the same look to a sprinkler head.

Orion sleeps on Dave’s bed with him every night up until Dave leaves for college six years later. Then he sleeps in Mom and Dad’s room. .By this point neither Dave nor I live at home. Gaia, our older dog, passes away suddenly. No warning. Orion is the only dog now.

Dad and Dave and I get sent off to look at puppies again (you’d think Mom would have learned by now…). We commit to a pup, though she’s still too young to bring home. When we finally bring her, Orion bounces.

Even though he’s six, he acts as young as she is.

The two of them become best friends, curling up to sleep together. Where he goes, she follows. Sienna. She is frightened of everything, and he is her brave older brother. Even though she eventually comes to weight 15 lb more than he does, she always believes he’s bigger.

Mom gets diagnosed with breast cancer. The treatment leaves her bed-ridden for the better part of a year. Orion and Sienna are her constant companions. They’re gentle with her. They know she’s sick, and she’s lonely, and they don’t mind when she needs to cry and hold them. Without them, she would be completely alone most days. For the first time since Bryse died more than 20 years ago, Mom truly bonds with a dog. Orion.

Likewise, Orion doesn’t mind when Dad falls apart and holds onto him and cries. Because Dad won’t let himself cry in front of Mom.

Orion has bonded with every single one of us. Dave, Dad, Mom, Uncle Stan, me. The only one of our dogs to do that.

Dave and I come home for Thanksgiving, and Orion is limping. He can barely use his front legs. But he’s excited to see us. Dad buys a vest with a handle on the top of it for Orion, so we can help take some of the weight off his legs when he goes upstairs. Sometimes Dave just carries him up. Orion is tired, and in pain half the time.

Mom and Dad sit us down. He’s not going to last much longer, they tell us. Which we all knew, but no one wanted to say. So, they tell us, you should probably say your goodbyes now.

We’re all crying. Dave lets me hold him while his shoulders shake. Mom holds Dad’s hand.

We don’t want him to suffer, Dad says. We won’t let what happened to Spock happen to him. No long and painful decline. No dying alone in the veterinary hospital.

Orion makes it to Dave’s birthday. He even makes it to Christmas.

When I arrive, he’s so excited that he gets up and limps over to me. Stumbling. In that time he’s lost even more muscle mass. His left front paw is useless. He can’t go up the stairs.

So Dave gets out his sleeping bag and sleeps on the living room floor.

Dad ups Orion’s pain meds, way past what the vet recommended. But what harm now? When he’s on the pain meds Orion wants to play. When the pain meds wear off, Orion is completely unresponsive.We take pictures. And we make this last week as good as we can.The day after Christmas we spend the morning petting Orion and giving him whatever treats he wants. Uncle Stan comes over and Orion struggles to his feet to go welcome him.

When afternoon comes we walk him out to the car, and he’s wagging his tail and it feels so wrong, because we’re taking him to die. Dave holds him the whole way there.

Orion can’t get out of the car; I carry him. When we get in the door the vet tech helps me carry him the rest of the way.

He’s trembling. We all gather around him, petting him. Each one of us touching him and trying to comfort him. His trembling seems to go away. The vet gives him a sedative.

A few minutes later, when Orion is calm, the vet comes back. It’s an extremely high dose of an anesthetic he tells us. Orion won’t feel anything. His body will twitch, but that’s not him. That’s the body trying to stay alive. He won’t be aware of it.

And it happens just like the vet says.

And Orion is gone.

Borrowed Prayers

I don’t have any appropriate prayers. Perhaps the El Malei Rachamim if I knew Hebrew — .
But Emily Dickinson… her poems can be my prayers. I think, maybe, they always have been.
Death sets a thing significant
The eye had hurried by,
Except a perished creature
Entreat us tenderly

To ponder little workmanships
In crayon or in wool,
With “This was last her fingers did,”
Industrious until

The thimble weighed too heavy,
The stitches stopped themselves,
And then ‘t was put among the dust
Upon the closet shelves.

A book I have, a friend gave,
Whose pencil, here and there,
Had notched the place that pleased him,–
At rest his fingers are.

Now, when I read, I read not,
For interrupting tears
Obliterate the etchings
Too costly for repairs.

– Emily Dickinson

In Memory of One Kick Ass Biker Chick

Wendy Moon

Have you ever had one of those friends? One of those prickly friends who is never easy, and sometimes you think maybe they’re bat-shit insane — either that, or brilliant, and then you realize, maybe those two things are the same?

I had one of those friends. An incredibly prickly, incredibly savvy woman who was willing to make a stand on something she believed in, even when it cost her a job and threatened to get her blacklisted in her industry.

She was a woman who escaped a cult, but lost half of her children to it in the process. I don’t think she ever forgave herself for that…

She made her way to LA, worked in Hollywood with some of the craziest people you’ll ever meet. And she fell in love. With motorcycles. They gave her freedom, and my words will never do justice to how she felt, but maybe some of hers will: I am a Motorcycle. Check it out. Really. It’s about a lot more than riding motorcycles, a lot more than gender, a lot more than being a writer…

I knew her in grad school. And she really did come across as intense and maybe a little crazy. But damn, she was fun. And she cared passionately about her friends, and about gender roles, and about motorcycle safety. She cared a hell of a lot about me, and I cared a hell of a lot about her, too. Even though she reminded me often she was closer to my mother’s age than mine. She’s the one who kicked my ass a year and a half ago about getting back to my own writing, and I did. And I sold that story. But we lost touch. She was depressed, I was overwhelmed with my mom’s cancer…

I looked for her a few times on IM, but didn’t see her. She’s been in hermit mode before, disappearing for a few months at a time. A few months became nearly a year…

She’s dead. She died in January, of a heart attack. The only reason I know – the only reason – is another friend, a close friend of hers and mine, had a student hand in a paper referencing one of Wendy’s articles on motorcycle safety. That friend looked up the website and saw that the article had been published posthumously.

Wendy Moon died January 9, 2011. Look her up. Google her, and you’ll see dozens of websites mourning her loss. Motorcycling magazines, list serves, personal blogs… She was fucking brilliant and she actually did something to make a difference. She called out the motorcycle industry on shady practices.

She was not an easy woman. Nor a happy one. But she was amazing. And knowing that she’s gone… well, my world just got darker.


Sometimes Safety is a Golden Retriever

(I really, really debated whether or not to post this. Then I realized, I’m probably the only one who cares, so why not? I’m going to preface this by saying my father apologized to me. A few years ago, of his own volition, he apologized to me for the way he behaved when I was a child.)

I tried EMDR for the first time the other day. The therapist had me think about a situation that makes me anxious in my life now, that makes me want to run away. And then she asked me to think of another situation when I felt the same way.

So many moments come to mind when she asks me to think of a time I wanted to escape. All of them, all of them, with my parents. The one I settle on, which is no surprise to me, as I’ve settled on it before in my writing, is a fight between my parents. My father is yelling at my mother, I don’t know why. She’s crying and then yelling back, her voice desperate and raw. I’m hiding on the stairway, out of sight near the top. I can’t really see them, just the tops of their heads, an overhead view nearly.

At that moment, the therapist asks “What do you feel?”

“My hands feel small,” I tell her. My hands and arms feel small to me, like the hands and arms of a five year old. It’s the strangest thing.

“What are you thinking?” she asks.

I half laugh, disparagingly, at myself. “I keep repeating the dog’s name in my head, over and over and over.”

“What was the dog’s name?”

“Bryce.” And suddenly I’m crying. I had no idea her name would do that to me. But I feel this rush of grief, tying into a knot at the base of my throat.

“Where is Bryce?”

“Next to me, on the stairs. I have my arm around her.” I pause. “She died when I was five. She was my best friend. She made me feel safe.”

“So she was your best friend, the only one who made you feel safe, the only stable thing in your life…”


“And then she died.”

And suddenly, I understand. When Bryce died, there was no more safety for me. There was no safe place I could go, no one who would always protect me. The one reliable thing in my life was gone. All I had left was the turbulence between my parents. No Bryce to hide with me at the top of the stairs while my parents fought. No Bryce to hold on to.

That was the first time my parents sent me to therapy. When I was five. I was depressed. No, Depressed, with a big D. Because Bryce died and I was alone.

A Sketch of Bryce